You Shalnor Pass!
There is no shortage of eShop games hoping to rekindle your nostalgia for beloved classics of old. A single glance at Shalnor Legends: Sacred Lands will tell you that one-person developer Johnny Ostad is clearly invoking A Link to the Past, but the comparison to one of Nintendo’s most endearing and enduring titles does no favors for Shalnor Legends. It is an empty, boring, and lifeless attempt at the Legend of Zelda formula, and there are but a few moments that keep it from being a complete throwaway.
Opening the game is a brief preamble where you are introduced to a being known as The Keeper. He attempts to dissuade you from your quest in the Sacred Lands, and this is where the adventure begins. Opening the map reveals that you are situated in the middle of a 3x3 grid, an area that is not unlike the wooded areas of Hyrule. The only path that isn’t blocked off is to the east, and in this desert area you retrieve the sword of a skeleton after his ghost implores you so. At no point are you supposed to think Shalnor Legends isn’t a Zelda clone.
Unfortunately, the sword you pick up is double-edged. You can obviously use it to cut down bushes—and you better get used to that—but it also grants a dash attack that helps speed up traversal, which is a blessing considering the normal walking speed is annoyingly slow. Of course, you can’t dash around forever as your stamina meter drains every time you do. The edge of the sword that cuts back at you is its incredibly short range coupled with a lack of satisfying feedback when you do manage to hit your target. In standard 2D Zelda fashion, there are numerous rooms where you need to defeat all of the enemies to progress, and because the combat isn’t fun, these all-too-frequent rooms become much more of a chore.
The objective of Shalnor Legends is to complete the Sacred Trial by collecting four relics housed within dungeons across the map. The dungeons aren’t overly complex and culminate in boss fights that are less about skill and more wars of attrition. The primary obstacles you face in each area are spiked floors, fireballs that shoot from the wall, and saws that move from one end of a corridor to the next. You do need quick reflexes here, but the real problem is the lack of interesting design. Once you’ve gone through the first area, a desert, and finished its respective dungeon, you aren’t really going to see much else after that. Other outdoor areas include a jungle, a marsh, and a haunted cemetary-like place, but the interior environments might as well have been copied and pasted.
The visuals aren’t too bad, but the music serves no real purpose other than as a background droning. While the bushes and trees have that familiar Zelda look to them, there are basically one or two new enemies in each zone of the map. Shalnor Legends fails to compel you to explore its environments because they are just so plain and uninteresting. Invisible chests pop up when you get near them, and these are important because you need the power-ups within to increase your health and magic points, but most of them are in nondescript locations within lifeless outdoor spaces.
One of the most frustrating things is that Shalnor Legends essentially forces you to grind for gold and resources to craft a stronger sword, better armor, and a larger bag. Without these improvements, the second half of the game becomes a real slog, forcing you to thoroughly upgrade your equipment before you can progress with the story. Some of the upgrades are unique and interesting, but having to return old areas of the map or comb the environments for hidden chests in a largely drab world isn’t all that enjoyable.
All told, Shalnor Legends isn’t trying to hide its source material, but this opens it up to serious criticism because it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself. If you are going to make a Zelda-like, it’s important to either have a compelling hook or be great. Blossom Tales and Reverie are much stronger titles in this genre that found a way to be similar but also different from Nintendo’s legendary franchise in their own ways. Shalnor Legends pales in comparison to any Zelda game. The use of “Legend” in the title is the only real link between these worlds.